Make Meditation Work For You With These 3 Tips from Dan Harris
Do you feel meditation simply isn’t for you? Does it feel like a waste of time, or are you doubtful of any claimed benefits? ABC anchor and professional skeptic, Dan Harris, talks to Caitlin about how meditation changed his life and how it can have benefits for everyone, even if you don’t buy into the spiritual side of the practice. Here are three main ideas from the conversation to get you started.
1. We can learn to recognize the voice in our head
We all have a voice in our head. This is not to say we’re on the verge of psychosis. It rather describes most people’s mundane day-to-day experience. From our first glimpse of the day in the morning to the moment we fall asleep, our mind provides non-stop commentary on everything we do and perceive.
Whatever your day looks like, your mind wraps a story around everything that happens. Sadly, your mind is a worryingly biased commentator and a lot of these stories shed an unforgiving, negative light on you. You should really go to the gym more often. You shouldn’t have talked so much in the meeting. You should really know more about what’s going on in politics. And so it goes on.
Yet, however critical the voice might be, meditation helps you to see that there is an alternative to letting it push you around and erode your sense of self-worth. We can notice it, recognize it for what it is, and choose not to buy into it but to simply let it go and come back to what we’re doing right here and now.
2. Your mind isn’t too busy to meditate
This incessant stream of thoughts causing waves in our mind can easily lead us to assume that meditation doesn’t work for us. We believe we simply cannot meditate because there is too thick a cloud of thoughts between us and the blissful state of calm we think we’re expected to attain. But that’s missing the point of the practice. Having a busy mind is part of being human.
And being assailed by thoughts over and over while trying to focus on nothing but the breath isn’t an impediment, but a natural part of meditating. In fact, it is an opportunity, because each time we recognize that our attention has drifted off into plans for dinner or images from our skiing holiday, we train our mind to unwind from the stories and to return to the present. Noticing that you were distracted isn’t a sign of failure, it is a moment of success, and on each occasion you’re strengthening your ability to be aware of what is happening right now, otherwise known as mindfulness.
In fact, neuroscientific research has shown that meditation can alter the anatomy of your brain towards greater attention and better emotional regulation.
3. One minute counts
Time can be the biggest hurdle to overcome in establishing a regular meditation routine. Our existing schedules can be so dauntingly busy that it seems impossible to make space for an additional daily commitment.
The good news is that, while it is fantastic to devote 15 minutes or more to meditation every day, you don’t have to start in this way. In fact, as Dan Harris argues, one minute can be enough to catch a first glimpse of the benefits that meditation has to offer. One minute a day is very likely all it takes to start recognizing the aforementioned voice in your head and thus can be a gateway into longer periods of practice.
And while a daily routine can be extremely beneficial, a daily-ish practice is just as good a reason to be happy with your commitment. We can have the best intentions to set aside time each and every day, but inevitably there will be times when circumstances outside your control conspire to break your streak. Instead of using this to chastise yourself for a lack of commitment and discipline, treat yourself with compassion and acknowledge the efforts you are already putting into the practice.
If these ideas have encouraged you to have a go yourself or if you’re curious about the personal story that brought Dan Harris, as a skeptical news anchor, to promoting the benefits of a practice like meditation, check out our blinks to his book 10% Happier.
- 13 min reading time
- 61k reads
- audio version available
And if you still have reservations there is a good chance these might be addressed in Harris’ latest book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.